Something to think about...by Superintendent Westerberg
Helping the public understand how school facility projects are funded can be a challenge. There are three sources of funds used to improve school facilities in Big Lake; a bond referendum passed in May 2016, additional state funding for building maintenance, and a Tax Abatement bond.
At the November school board meeting, the school board voted to move forward with improving parking lots during the summer of 2019. The exact scope of the work has yet to be finalized; however, the high school parking lot will be completely redone and the middle school, Liberty Elementary and Highway 43 parking lots will have an overlay on top of the existing surface. All district bus lanes will have thicker surfaces and parts of the high school and middle school parking lots will be redesigned to improve safety and traffic flow. In addition, the road from Liberty Elementary to the new ball field parking lot and the parking lot itself will be paved.
The architect’s estimate for these projects is $2.3 million. These improvements will be financed through a tax abatement bond, which will begin in 2020 and coincides with an existing bond being paid off. A home assessed at $200,000 will have a reduction of $28 a year due to the bond being paid off. The bond to pay for the parking lot improvements will cost $26 a year, thus a net reduction of $2. Though the middle school and Liberty parking lots are not in bad shape yet, basic maintenance of these lots would be required this summer if the Board hadn’t approved the major improvements. While basic maintenance would last about 8-10 years, the overlay will last 20 or more years. A majority of the Board believes redoing all the lots now will be more cost effective in the long run.
At this same meeting, the Board approved the replacement of the roof at Independence Elementary. The existing roof was installed in 1997 and has a 15-year warranty, while the warranty on the new roof is 35 years. Total cost of this project will be $2.54 million. This project will be paid through additional state funding. During the 2015 legislative session, a law was passed to provide all school districts some additional funding for facility repairs. The amount of this funding is based upon the district’s enrollment and the age of the buildings. The older the buildings, the more additional revenue the district receives.
Big Lake receives about $900,000 annually in state aid for facility maintenance. Part of the money is used for the cost of annual expenses, like inspections, fixing broken mechanical equipment, etc., while the remaining money is used to pay off bonds for large facility projects. In the last three years, this money has been used for new roofs at the high school and middle school, a new parking lot at Independence, tuck-pointing work on all four buildings, and part of the swimming pool and tennis court upgrades. Most of the money to fund these projects comes from state aide; however, there is a portion that is from local property taxes. Regardless of which project is being done, it is important the public knows their tax dollars are being spent wisely.